The Way It Was
October 14, 1988
Joe Morgan – Columnist
Can’t remember how long ago that I started doodling instead of paying attention in class. It must have been pretty early on as I was constantly standing in the corner doing extra homework…and even occasionally had a paddle applied to my seat of knowledge for those artistic endeavors.
Back in them “golden” days they didn’t have art courses in high school, much less at the elementary level. Hence, my dubious talents were kind of like Topsy. “They just growed.”
1938 wasn’t exactly in the years of affluence, so our school paper was mimeographed. Since I had somehow become the school cartoonist laureate my junior and senior years, I had to become proficient with the stylus and screen blocks as all pics and headlines were laboriously hand cut on the mimeograph stencils.
Happily Charlie Lewis, no mean painter himself in his latter years, encouraged me in an art career, including furnishing plenty of art paper and pencils. A very thoughtful gift to a poor kid, but his words of wisdom were even more thoughtful:
“Nobody will give you any stuff about being an artist if you just keep running that football up and down the field.”
Later when my roommate at M.U., the editor of the Show-Me humor magazine, asked me to do cartoons for him, I asked, “Where’s the stylus and light table?” Smiling patiently, he brought me some India ink and a crow-quill pen so I could make something they could reproduce.
My senior year at Warrensburg I even took some art courses, which opened up a new world of brushes, grease pencils and all sorts of things that I’d never heard of before.
Reporting to Naval pre-flight training at St. Mary’s College, the call went out the first day for an artist with mimeograph training. I wasn’t too big on volunteering, but there were some veiled hints about getting to miss some marches and other noxious details. That sounded good to me and I was soon sitting right back in front of the old A.B. Dick light table again.
Soon we were producing weekly eight-pagers (four of which were cartoons) and I did get to miss a few of the crap details. I was allowed a big of minor glory and loved every minute of it.
When I reported for duty in the Aleutians my journalism career seemed finished, as we didn’t have an indoor toilet, much less a newspaper. However, it did seem like a good idea to draw a cartoon on the envelope of my daily letter to my wife to keep my cartooning hand in shape.
Several months later I began to receive complaints from the home front that my letters were arriving about a month late. Finally it was determined that my envelopes were taking a circuitous route up and down the chain so everybody could sneak a peek before they were delivered on to the States.
In a fit of pique I started drawing them inside. Some complaints later from up and down the chain, we finally compromised on letting everybody look but moving things right along so I wasn’t in trouble back home. After all, I didn’t want to deprive the world of my “magnificent humor.”
Soon I even received some fan letters from the girls at the fleet post office in Seattle. Flattery worked it’s charm on me and in no time I was sending them autographed cartoons.
My golden moment finally came when I returned home for good. The postman at my wife’s parent’s house in K.C. came by one morning and asked to see me.
“I knew that you couldn’t look like those cartoons, but you do have red hair.”
In any event, he tendered a luncheon invitation to my wife and myself from the postmaster himself. We spent a delightful afternoon at lunch and being introduced around the main post office as that cartoonist.
This was my last moment of glory. Soon I was working at an advertising agency doing it for money. Just didn’t seem the same when I wasn’t cartooning for love. Besides, I didn’t get to do aviators anymore. I was now doing cartoon chickens and hogs for a feed company. I bought every Walt Disney comic book in town to figure out how to make chicken wings and pig forefeet into hands.
Oh well, old cartoonists never die. Their India ink just dries up and their brushes get limp.